Australia Day

26 January 2011

London

14 million people. Dead fucking silence.

Yes, apart from the odd scuffling of shoes, and a car driving by (which was surprisingly rare) it was oh-so-quiet in the centre of London.

Despite this, the ratio of (no. of words written about the place):(place) is by far the greatest for London than any other place I’ve been to.

Mark & I thought we should do some sightseeing before Mark’s departure from London, so I thought that St. Paul’s cathedral would suffice, as it’s instantly impressive with no thought or effort required.

It’s basically a really big Catholic Church. It doesn’t look so much here but it’s all I’ve got.

Well, not even basically; to all advanced technical detail, it’s just a big, old place of religion. It’s very impressive.

“Open for visitors at 2:30pm” the sign said as we got around to the main entrance. Looking at my watch which said 2:45pm, I couldn’t help be distracted from the building and started thinking of who the building was built for; I was reminded of the great intellectual body that is the Catholic Church.

So we waited for a while, then God opened his gates, but only for those going in for ‘the service’. There was something about standing in the line that made Mark & I stick out. It certainly wasn’t the way we were standing, nor the way we didn’t look like non-Christians, but perhaps it was that we were the only people below 60, thus unique with colour in our hair and lack of cane.

I talked our way through the front door and we marvelled and the inside of the building, walking as slowly as was unnoticeably possible. After a few demands to take beanies off (or as Britons call them,‘hats’) and to walk to where'mass’ was getting together. Hiding behind big pillars only worked for so long, you see.

“You are here for the service, yes?” “Yes, thanks” I went to take the booklet he was offering me from his hand. Not so fast! He thought, quickly withdrawing his hand. “So you’re here for the service - you know, mass?” “Yes, and thanks I know what it is. How long does it usually go for?” “Oh, an hour. At least an hour. Obviously it can go on for much longer.” He was happy to keep his patronising tone to speak to such obviously disrespectful people… “Ok, thanks.” “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I gave up and turned around, instantly meeting eyes with 2 girls of a similar age. “So you guys did the same thing as us?” she had a slight'sh’ to her s’s so I assumed she was Dutch. “Yeah, pompous bastards they are.” “Hm yes ha ha!” “Could I kindly ask everyone who isn’t in for the service to kindly leave please” Well you could have … After chatting for a bit, with who we found out were Greeks, we headed out the door. Yes, that big crowd of 4 people stampeded our way out. “We came in here and saw it. We did it… right? We tried…” they seemed disappointed as they only had a couple of days left in London.

A shame, really. Churches and mindless discrimination. Whodda thunk it.

• cough Woops cough • cough Oh dear cough • cough No… cough • cough and that’s in the 2010 International Version of the Bible cough

Man, I’ve got to get some lozenges or something.

After that pleasant experience we headed over to Tate Modern art gallery. It’s miles better now, with really cool stuff, than it was in 2008, though it still can be atrocious. A story that gets it in one, where a family travels out of the less-desirable East London or any other poorer country to the gallery:

Daddy, why did we have to leave our home to see…. this… It’s the same pile of bricks that’s outside my bedroom window!

In all seriousness, it was a worthwhile visit without a doubt, apart from the few, what I shall call,'clangers’.

Australia Arvo & Evening

Of course, it was Australia Day in Europe, whereas most back home would have been recovering from the infamous hangover.

How could we tell it was this international holiday? We saw a handful of people around London wearing straw hats and tattoos. Yeah, I was surprised too.

So, from the 3 hour tube to and from where we were staying in North London, we saw a couple of Australians get on our train. “Happy Australia Day!” High 5s all'round. These girls were from the middle of nowhere in NSW, and we needed to change lines, so we did a quick goodbye, knowing fully well that we would never ever see them again.

Mark & I went to meet up with my Dad and his cousin, a South Londoner, in Covent Garden for a couple of drinks, but soon got cracking on with the festivities of Australia Day, now turned Australia night.

Splattered all around the UK are Australian-themed pubs called 'Walkabout’ which have been going since the 70’s, at least. Sure there were less tacky places to go, but the whole concept of being in London and being awfully tacky appealed to me after a few pints. Being in the West End, we only had to go down a couple of streets and surely enough, there was our Walkabout.

With it, was its unenviably long and slow queue; the security was going through people as quickly as Australia is moving towards India due to continental-bloody-drift! Mark had to leave at 8am the next morning so we had no time to lose trying to find another venue, we reluctantly entered the queue.

Walking the talk & thoughts

It may seem a random interjection… but it’s not…!

What?

When you are, to all intents and purposes, alone in a foreign country, is that most, if not all, your personal social barriers break down.

How?

Well, you’re forced into it.

Why?

I realised that

  1. Every walk of life can interact with you,
  2. that you may not ever see the person/people ever again (stereotypical, yes, but you don’t actually behave like that) and
  3. they fucking have to break down, unless you willingly suppress human instinct.

You’d be a fool, therefore, not to stride right through where the barriers once stood and just do things; for that’s what everything is all about - actually doing things, hence'Walking the talk & thoughts’.

I recognised the importance of this'walking’ long before my trip, but have only recently come to realise that you can exclusively do things all the time if you want to, especially if you’ve experienced these side-effects of travelling; i.e. the aforementioned barrier drop (amongst others of course, but less influential, like working strange things out for yourself and culture shock).

I guess that’s why this guy said to me a few weeks ago:

Youth is often wasted on the young!

because young people don’t like to walk their talk.

Now, what is interesting is the time at which I rationalised, and made sense of all of this…

When?!

After speaking to the 6 American girls who had entered the queue (you remember the queue!) just behind Mark & I.

“Happy Australia Day, guys!” “Woo! Thanks!” They shouted excitedly and simultaneously. “Where are you guys from?” “We’re from Am… well, we’re all American” NO WAY! “Oh couldn’t really pick it out ha ha! Whereabouts in the US?” They all rattled off their residential states, of which I can only remember 3; Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio, and were over for'study break’. Then we talked and talked and talked, covering politics to leisure, the US to Canada, which I figured out is the same attitude as Australia to New Zealand. Then, some Aussie guy came along.

“Look, I’ve come right from work! If ya don’t believe me…” he pulled out his bright red Topshop t-shirt.

So then we all were laughing and talking more. We both admitted to the feeling that we couldn’t help but think that we would run into somebody they knew, which was weird. I asked him whether he snowboarded, since he worked at Hotham for a few seasons and he replied “Nah man, I can’t freestyle, but I’ve got some Hilltop Hoods! Miss this shit!” So he gave me a headphone and I blurted out the few lyrics that I did know very proudly, ironically.

After what felt like a couple of minutes there was some short fat Aussie trying to make his way back into the club despite the five pushing security guards. Another couple of minutes and I found myself showing my driver’s licence and that unlikely group of 9, us, made our way in.

I’ve never seen a pub/club/whatever packed so tightly, so it explained the horrendous queue wait. I don’t even know what this place was supposed to be; it was just a big blank room with a bar at the side of the room and'Australian’ decorations on the ceiling and walls. They literally crammed the place to exploding point, as the only way to move to the bar was to shuffle shoulder to shoulder. Toohey’s Extra Dry, VB and Toohey’s New were staring us at the face after shuffling through to the bar, and who could resist on such a night after such a wait? Mark & I lost the gang so it was just 2 TEDs to order.

The next thing I noticed was the live music being played, and what a performance by some drunk, drugged up bloke who was an incredibly good guitarist. For some reason there was actual breathing space and no weird Eastern Europeans at the front, closest to the solo live performer, so to the front we went.

“OK so what do you BASTARDS want played?” the guy demanded with an almighty croaky voice. All that followed was random shouting from the pub. “Ok, let’s see what we have'ere…” taking a sip from his VB as he spoke. He started randomly playing chords then put on a song and got playing. He did an incredible solo despite his less than dexterous state. The song after that, he stopped a ¼ of the way through. “BOOOOOOO!!!” from the pub. They were disgusted. “Now, look. I had to…”, took a sip, “stop. You there. Yeah! You two! They were doin’ that thing. Y'know. That thing… It’s like, uhhhh, CUNNILINGUS! Except without the CUNT!” “Yeeeaaaahhhh!!!” from the pub. Oh the hypocrisy! “Ok let’s get goin’!”

There he played “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again” by The Angels, to which the entire pub responded with the unwritten lyrics

Walkabout drugged performer: “Am I ever gonna see your face again!” Pub: “NO WAY GET FUCKED FUCK OFF!”

I’d never seen so many middle fingers at the same time held up. The pub’s turn to sing, or more accurately, shout, was all you could hear when the time came. A guy in an AFL singlet told me to keep jumping as the song was playing, but I’ve no idea why. Another guy, wearing 3 Australian flags (back and both arms) got into conversation with me. After confirming we were both had dual citizenship, British & Australian, he started saying “The things is, I’m really…… really… rich. My family is so rich. I’ve got triple citizenship, from Canada, as well.” Hiccupping and burping his way through that very important statement. I’ve got no idea why he said that, because he demanded that we all start dancing again. He was a really funny guy, actually, as after every song he’d jump up on a banister and wave his body-length flags around in front of everyone despite the fact that he looked like a blind drunk 15-year-old.

Midnight struck.

“I WAS TOLD THAT I SHOULDN’T BE NAUGHTY… BUT FUCK IT! CHEERS TO EVERYONE AND HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY” he shouted, finishing his beer(s?).

Soon thereafter we left as Mark had a train to catch in the morning.

On the train back, just because we didn’t spend enough time in the evening with Americans, I got talking to 3 20-year-old Americans from Manhattan, to great success. They, too, were on'study break’, and they too were happy about the drinking age. Occasionally with people around the age of 21, you can feel quite young and little-travelled. However, I would put a lot of this to the drinking age to whatever country they were from, so with these three you really didn’t feel young at all. They had a reasonable and genuine national pride (unlike what is popularised), knew where to get the'best’ pot from (the South, if I remember) and talked of strict drinking regulations (no alcohol on the streets at all). Don’t know exactly what the'college guy’ pigeon hole is but they were really good blokes.

Don’t know whether Australia day will be as interesting next time 'round, but therein marks a very American, un-Australian end to the Australian national holiday.

Copyright 2010-2020 Oliver Lowe. All rights reserved.